By Lila Roo
Coming in from an island in the West Indies, Lila Roo’s body of work “Royalty” brings vibrant colour and texture to the walls of the Merchant Gallery. The sculptural tapestries in this body of work are laborious testaments to transformation, made entirely, yet imperceptibly, from repurposed plastic. And the photographs in the show are visions of Caribbean people, adorned by such works of art and amidst their lush and raw home. Both media of art in this show unveil a regal beauty which is otherwise often hidden or overpowered by the global, frenzied mass consumption of modern life and its objects, ideals, and idols.
Roo’s series of slender sculptural tapestries in this show, are a progression of her unique and signature style. They offer the potential for transformation of material through time and energy, thus changing the way we value that material. Her pieces are made from durable single-use plastics which have been discarded, collected and cleaned. She works daily over many years to braid, bind and fuse them together. Resulting is a rich and energetic array of tactile, woven, hue. Her pieces take years to make because of her refined collection and assembly process; it is likely that any given piece contains materials from numerous places around the world.
Implicit in this work is the knowledge that we are living in a destructive new era of single-use resources and commodities which harm the cyclical and transformative order of the natural world. Undaunted in the face of potential disparagement, Roo uses her hands, dedication and vision to rework discarded material, bringing life and value back into it. Her work is a modern progression of millennia of people ancestrally who made sustainable art out of the resources directly around them, intending art creation as a spiritual offering, a non-verbal language connecting physical and transcendent worlds. Roo’s work is made to honour handwork, hard work, vision, sustainability, and the spiritually transformative elements of art practice.
Roo’s photographic portraits speak of reuniting people with their power, their royal-ness. They are almost-magical visions in which daily life, hardship, and mundanity melt away to reveal noble figures, adorned and venerated.These are not conceptual photographs; they are real life experiences, in which beauty is framed. They are made with mutual trust, love and respect; the photographic subjects are family, friends and neighbours of Roo’s, celebrated over the six years thus far she has lived on-island. Her portraits are made with awareness of the potential which images possess to create reality, power structures, and ways of seeing. Many parts of Western society have profited from narratives of power over people, sown in global consciousness through imagery. Such Western images are omnipresent today and threaten to infiltrate even the Caribbean community, replacing real human strength with store-bought beauty, drowning ingenuity and sustainable living in a glittering flood of proffered materialism.
This series seeks to initiate new images for the people Roo photographs, and for the world at large, images which tell a different and mysterious story of strength, resilience and real Royalty that cannot be bought or stolen. This ongoing series was initiated and has been sustained entirely by the mutual connection and excitement between the artist and the subjects photographed. The utmost role of the resulting prints is to empower the participants by nurturing reverence for them. These photographs are beloved by the people in them and once printed hang preeminently in their homes. It has now come time that the wider world may glimpse inside this intimate collection to celebrate these moments further. This is the first time they have been shown.